Indiana Governor Vetoes Controversial Landlord-Tenant Bill

Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb (R) vetoed a landlord-tenant bill on March 25 that would have diminished protections for more than two million Hoosier renters. This marks only the second time that the governor has vetoed a bill passed by the Republican supermajority. The “Senate Enrolled Act” (SEA) 148 would have prohibited local governments from regulating landlord-tenant relationships, expanded instances for emergency possession, and limited tenant protections from landlord retaliation. Housing advocates in the state, led by Prosperity Indiana, an NLIHC state partner, engaged in coordinated efforts to oppose this bill.

SEA 148 would have substantially changed existing landlord-tenant law to weaken state protections for renters, who comprise more than 30% of the state’s population. The bill would have nullified positive tenant protections from cities and other local governments, such as an anti-retaliation ordinance and a policy requiring landlords to notify tenants of their rights and responsibilities recently passed in Indianapolis. The Indiana Apartment Association, a powerful interest group representing landlords across Indiana, supported SEA 148, arguing that different housing policies across cities contributes to high administrative costs and rents.

In his veto letter, Governor Holcomb critiqued the bill’s language as overly broad by preempting local governments from regulating any aspect of the landlord-tenant relationship. The governor also stated that this is an inappropriate time to pass a bill that could leave renters vulnerable given the threat of coronavirus, noting the executive order he signed on March 19 to temporarily halt evictions and foreclosures during the state of emergency.

Opponents of SEA 148 called attention to the devastating impact the bill would have on the state’s affordable housing and eviction crisis, particularly given the threat of coronavirus. Some opponents also critiqued the process that led to the section of the bill that would impact tenants because the bill was filed as a last-minute amendment to an unrelated bill, Senate Bill 340, and the General Assembly offered no opportunity for formal input or public deliberation.

A diverse coalition of advocates, including affordable housing developers, medical and legal assistance providers, organizations serving marginalized populations, and religious groups, participated in efforts to oppose the harmful bill. More than 300 organizations and individuals signed a letter to the Indiana General Assembly opposing the legislation. Prosperity Indiana coordinated a veto campaign, which included sending a letter to Governor Holcomb signed by 60 organizations, after the legislature passed the bill.

The state legislature can override Governor Holcomb’s veto with a majority vote, but housing advocates are prepared to continue advocating for Indiana tenants.

“We applaud Governor Holcomb for his leadership in stopping this sweeping bill during what became an unusually difficult season for our state, said Jessica Love, executive director of Prosperity Indiana. “We anticipate and look forward to working with impacted parties - those in support of and opposed to SEA 148 - next session. After we survive this pandemic, I think we’ll all have a greater appreciation for safe and stable housing.”